RED Komodo 6K - Pros & Pitfalls from a Video Production Perspective
By Gavin Pease
It seems as though everyone in the industry buzzing about RED’s newest release: the RED Komodo 6K.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on a twin set here at Element 7, and we’ve wasted no time putting them to work on a variety of our projects.
Coupled with our new favorite Sigma Cine Zooms, we’re absolutely loving what we’re getting out of these lightweight, but heavy hitting cameras. The imaging is smooth and pops off the screen. In corporate video and interviews, our two RED Komodo's make for a clean, killer A and B cam duo. For music videos, it is an amazing system to get cinematic visuals and still survive a versatile shot list. The Komodo has a long-lasting battery too, powering through full production schedules. All of this is packed into a camera brain you can comfortably put in your palm.
That being said, no camera can be perfect. The lack of connections and need for adapters make it a difficult camera to work with in documentary or run-and-gun scenarios, despite its size.
Now that we've had some first hand experience, we thought we’d share our likes and dislikes for the hot, new RED Komodo 6k.
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? RED has succeeded in making their smallest camera so far, and it can more than hold its own in comparison. Shrunken down to a compact cube, it is an ideal and easy balance for any decent sized gimbal. Weighing in at just over 2lbs, it’s also a dream to lug around in-hand or on your shoulder. Boasting RED’s cinema level image quality on a 6K sensor in a body this small means the Komodo is definitely a camera you can trust as far as you can throw it (Not that we would EVER recommend doing such a thing, please don't throw expensive cameras!). Even when size isn’t a direct benefit, it serves as a good counter to most negatives of camera qualifications.
New global shutter technology is another huge step forward towards untainted image quality. This methodology moves away from rolling shutters, which refresh in lines or small sections at a time. In capturing fast motion or flashing lights, rolling shutters can inherently cause issues within the image in the way of slanted perspective or partial exposure changes due to how the camera renders the whole image in portions. Elements present in one fraction of a second may be different from the next, but are all applied to the same overall render.
The RED Komodo 6K's global shutter destroys this issue. The global shutter renders the entire image at once, meaning quality consistency across the sensor’s canvas. Not only does this methodology contribute to the integrity of the image in-camera, but it also extends to make post-production life easier. Frame after frame of clean, undistorted imagery makes for smoother camera stabilization and simplified visual effects tracking and processing.
‘Is This Your Card?’
We’re happy to see that this time around, RED has decided to dedicate the Komodo 6K to C Fast Media cards. This decision holds a lot of weight for production houses and shooters alike who carry multiple camera systems. Consolidation is key, and being able to use the same media for RED as we do for Blackmagic’s Ursa Minis and Pocket Cinema Cameras helps tremendously to cut down on cost and hassle. Just make sure you have plenty of spare cards handy. A major benefit of RED systems is their hands-off approach to imaging, and RED’s camera raw is what defines them. It also racks up gigabytes of space in no time.
Note: It’s absolutely worth mentioning that the Komodo 6K allows for in-camera capture in ProRes. For shoots that fit the logistics, this is a great saver of media space, time in media transfers to clients, and time in post-production in the way of color-grading and a less intensive codec on your NLE.
While not a direct feature of the camera, this is a bonus quality that is too good not to include. There are adapters on the market allowing you to ‘internally’ apply ND and cut light in your camera exposure. We recently picked up two of Canon’s ND adapters and love the ease of use it provides in constructing a scene and adapting to changing lighting scenarios. Now we can set our shutter, ISO, and aperture where they’re ideal and bump the exposure up or down with the flick of a dial and without a worry for affecting the image quality. No more wrestling on a mattebox, or keeping track of which filter sizes to lug around. Just another aspect aiding in maintaining your shooting footprint and stresses at a minimum.
While the integrated touch monitor is a very welcomed addition to the Komodo 6K, the overall monitoring experience leaves much to be desired. The on-board screen is located on the top of the camera body, so it quickly becomes an inconvenience at best. Top handles and rigs can make the monitor a challenge to navigate, and any standing tripod shots will easily raise the screen out of your view entirely. The camera itself only has one SDI Out port and the Control Monitor only has one SDI In port. This means that you will require a splitter in the usual case that you’ll need to send your image to multiple locations. The RED Komodo wi-fi and monitoring app are also very unreliable and result in spotty image transmission and poor UI performance. Not to mention that smartphones usually aren’t a great visual for clients on set in general, and especially not while being used as ‘equipment’.
< Enter Control Monitor >
This time around, RED has offloaded their external control monitoring for Small HD. Small HD monitors, of course, are extremely widely used, including by us at Element 7. In fact, in most cases their 5 and 7 inch monitors are our go-to, so we expected great things from this partnership. We were admittedly a little disappointed as one of our control monitors was faulty straight out of the box. One-off manufacturing errors aside, we got a replacement quickly and were off to set. The Small HD interface is fairly similar to their other monitors, but the crossover for RED’s camera control is where issues arise.
Setting the camera’s project parameters and navigating up and down through menu levels using the monitor is downright frustrating. Previous menu levels become dimmed and greyed out without a ‘Back’ function, running the risk of unintentionally changing settings while returning to the root level. The UI isn’t a perfect mirror of the camera either, so you’ll have to do your own translating in searching for what you want. This is all without addressing the price point, which is jacked up $400 to integrate the camera control software and an additional $100 for the adaptive cable alone.
Firmware updates and future patches are sure to ease this process, but for the time being it is pretty rough. Collectively, the monitoring methods for this camera are the heaviest negative the RED Komodo 6K carries. If you can get past it, there isn’t a whole lot else to reasonably gripe about.
RED’s Komodo 6k, of course, performs great at all typical frame rates. When bumping up to shoot in slow motion, there is a crop factor to take into account. To get true double-time speed at 48fps, you’ll have to downgrade to 5K crop. Even at a 4K crop the Komodo’s cap is 60fps, meaning that there is only 120fps at an HD crop (A full breakdown of resolutions and Max Frame Rates can be seen on RED’s page. With 4K becoming the minimum standard, limiting your sensor to such a low set of pixels may take you out of the running depending on your delivery quality. The crop factor also means that your field of view is constricted and will result in a tighter frame. It’s worth it to plan ahead and bring a wider lens, although admittedly we haven’t found the 4K 60fps crop to be all that intrusive. Additionally, we find few cases to go as slow as 120fps. The real downside is the absence of higher frame rates while utilizing the full 6K sensor, as the large sensor is a main selling point.
To get a more detailed breakdown of the Komodo 6K and it’s frame rates, we highly recommend this video made by a fellow Seattleite. It really puts things into perspective if this aspect is a concern of yours, and goes in depth as to the reasoning behind RED’s crop factor and available frame rates.